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Landowners' perceptions of risk in grassland management: woody plant encroachment and prescribed fire

Ryan N. Harr, Iowa Department of Natural Resources; Iowa State University
Lois Wright Morton, Iowa State University
Shannon R. Rusk, Iowa State University
David M. Engle, Oklahoma State University
James R. Miller, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Diane Debinski, Iowa State University


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Ecologists recognize that fire and herbivory are essential to maintaining habitat quality in grassland ecosystems. Prescribed fire and grazing are typically used on public reserves to increase biodiversity, improve grassland productivity, and control encroachment of woody plants. However, these tools, particularly prescribed fire, have not been widely adopted by private landowners. Fire suppression and prescribed fire are strategies that present competing risks to owners who make management decisions. We explore landowner perceptions of risk associated with (1) eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) encroachment, and (2) the use of prescribed fire to control woody species in the Grand River Grasslands of Iowa and Missouri, USA. We found that although mapping data of eastern redcedar in this region showed substantial encroachment over the past three decades, concept mapping of landowner beliefs and in-person interviews of local community leaders revealed that perceived risks associated with prescribed fire often outweighed those associated with loss of forage and grassland habitats.

Key words

concept mapping; eastern redcedar; fire suppression; grassland management; landowner perception; prescribed fire; private landowners; risk perception; tallgrass prairie

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087